Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Does a 60-seat Democratic Senate Majority Really Mean

Earlier today it was reported that Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) had announced his intention to run for the Democratic primary in 2010 to retain his seat. The result is that the Democrats may have a 60-seat majority in the United States Senate, and one that is filibuster proof.

How significant would this change be from an employment law standpoint?

The Obama administration has several priorities in the labor and employment area. Union organization is just one of several punch list items. The administration and Congress have already addresses some aspects of wage inequality (see my earlier post on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act), and it appears fairly certain that some form of legislation addressing secret balloting for unions will be enacted this term.

But consider, also, the context. For nearly a decade there had been precious little action in Congress on labor and employment priority issues. In that time, several Supreme Court decisions had whittled away several legislative initiatives, including Title VII and the ADA, and the Bush Administration tied the hands of the Department of Labor from all but the most egregious enforcement activities. The Solicitor General of the Department of Labor under President Bush had informally commented that actions against employers of less than 10,000 weren't likely under Bush.

A lot has changed in the workplace during these ten years of stagnation. Some change is not only appropriate, but overdue. As the baby boomers age, issues involving caregiving responsibilities become more front and center, necessitating a fresh look at family leave legislation and anti-discrimination laws. The workforce is changing dramatically, and a human resources professional from the 80's might not recognize the workplace of 2010 and beyond.

So while Senator Specter's change of party may make actually effectuating legislative initiatives easier in the Congress, it doesn't mean that these initatives aren't appropriate, or even overdue.


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